Joel Beeke, Gwynn Williams, John Aaron, Martin Holdt, Stuart Olyott & Ian Hamilton
I really enjoyed this year's Banner Ministers' Conference. It was a refreshing time of ministry and fellowship. There was a healthy emphasis on the practicalities of the pastoral-preaching ministry. Gwynn Williams' opening sermon on 1 Thessalonians 1 focused on the need for Spirit empowered preaching. Only such preaching will produce lives characterised by faith, hope and love. In his first message, Joel Beeke urged us to be "Christ preachers" - men devoted to preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified. He sought to exemplify this Christocentric focus in his other addresses on Preaching Christ's Forsakenness from Matthew 27:46 and Preaching Christs Offices from Luke 22:31-32. As we have come to expect from Beeke, his preaching was marked by a good combination of careful exegesis, sound theological reflection and warm experiential piety.
Stuart Olyott gave attention to pastoral issues. In his own unique style he faced us with the challenges of Shepherding all our People and Raising up leadership in the Local Church. How we often fail on both counts. In the first of his addresses, Stuart directed us to the clear biblical teaching in Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2. He then sought to give some very helpful practical advice on how best to pastor all the people in our congregations. Right at the outset he stressed that our initial response to his message should be heartfelt repentance, not simply a determination to do better. In the second talk, the preacher based his thoughts on 2 Timothy 2 and urged us to be involved in training up the next generation of Christian leaders. Stuart also gave the Conference's closing sermon. He preached on 1 John 1, stressing the importance of honest confession of sin and that we need freshly cleansed in the blood of Christ. That is message from God that we need to hear.
Ian Hamilton spoke on The Minister's Calling, based on Romans 11:33-36. Our preaching must be an expression of breathless wonder at God's amazing grace in Christ. Such proclamation will marked by grace-constrained humility that will lead to a note of exultant adoration of the God of the gospel. In a second address on The Minister's Character, from Isaiah 42, we were reminded that our ministry is the expression of our Christian lives. Preachers therefore need to be holy men of God. As Robert Murray M'Cheyne once said, "It is not great talents that God is likely to bless, but great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is a terrible weapon in the hand of God."
John Aaron spoke on 'Shall a Nation Be Born at Once'? Lessons from the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. Aaron, a physics teacher by trade has translated the mighty 2 volume, 1600 page Tadau Methodistiaid [The Methodist Fathers] for the Trust. The work is due for publication in the summer. Delegates could pre-order the set for the discounted price of £24. How could I refuse? In a rather lengthy paper, Aaron piled quote upon quote to give us an insight into Wales' revival years from 1735 to 1905. During that period there was a remarkable growth in genuine biblical Christianity. In 1730, there were only seventy Nonconformist churches in Wales. By 1851, the number had gown to 2,088. By the middle of the 19th Century, over 50% of the population of Wales could be found worshipping in evangelical churches on the Lord's Day. But there was more to this presentation than statistics. Aaron gave us a glimpse of the rich, God-centred and thoroughly trinitatian piety of the Calvinistic Methodists. Sadly his account also reflected the rapid decline of vital godliness in Land of my Fathers. Now less than 2% of the people profess evangelical Christianity. "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?"
Tuesday and Wednesday mornings featured short but valuable slots on unction in preaching and lessons from Spurgeon. There were also a couple of panel discussions dealing with theological issues and the practicalities of life in the ministry. The practical emphasis of the conference was certainly challenging and helpful. But Banner usually features at least some mind stretching theological teaching that opens up whole new vistas of truth. That kind of thing was perhaps lacking this year. Yes, we need to be good pastors, but to do that we need to be pastor-theologians.
These events are not simply about the items on the programme. They are opportunities to renew fellowship with old friends and to meet other ministers from the UK and overseas. The food provided by Leicester University was up to the usual high standard. Which is more than can be said for my football skills, as I helped both sides I played for to loose. I hosted the gathering of "The Taffia", a fringe meeting of mostly Welsh ministers. My room was "G8", an appropriate venue for our annual summit. Geoff Thomas asked us in turn to say a word or two about our fathers. This was a painful experience for some, with stories of unbelief and death, but an opportunity for others to testify to the godly example of their dads.
It was good to meet up with a some fellow bloggers notably, Gary Brady, Gary Benfold, Martin Downes and Alan Davey. Stephen Holland and I manned a display for the Protestant Truth Society. I didn't buy many books this year, just The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, compiled by Arthur Bennett, Calvin and the Calvinists by Paul Helm and Stuart Olyott's booklet, Reading the Bible and Praying in Public. The last title is very useful. Among other things, Olyott suggests maintaining eye contact during Bible reading. This helps to ensure that the minister captures the attention of the whole congregation. To do this, hold the Bible in your hand and look at the people every now and again during the reading. I made a point of watching Stuart put this into practice as he read the Scriptures during the Conference. I was so impressed that I tried it out on Sunday. Members of the congregation noticed this and some commented on it after the service. One wondered if my eyesight was failing as I held my Bible aloft for the reading, rather than laid it on the lectern. Another asked if I was showing off my new shiny black leather Bible with its bright gilt edged pages. Ah well. At least it grabbed their attention in some way.
Dates for Banner 2009: 27-30 April. Main Speakers: Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Thomas & Garry Williams. Possible Big Theme: 400th anniversary of the death of a certain John Calvin? CD's of this year's ministry, including an all-in-one MP3 CD will be available soon from the Banner of Truth Trust. Stuart Olyott's addresses especially recommended.